Classical Magnet

Feeding the Dragon

Classical Magnet School and Hartford Stage: A Mutually-Beneficial Partnership

By Natalie Pertz, Resident Teaching Artist

Classical Magnet student Trinity Stewart
Classical Magnet student Trinity Stewart

For over 20 years, the partnership between Hartford Stage and Classical Magnet School has been a foundation for arts education in the Greater Hartford area. This relationship grew from Classical Magnet’s participation in Hartford Stage’s Interact program, which enables students to attend a production and participate in pre- and post-show classroom workshops with a teaching artist. This experience became part of the fabric of the school, at least for the eighth grade class, with strong links to the school’s classical curriculum. Both organizations began to ask how they could work together more. What began as a single program has, over the years, metamorphosed into an expansive offering of Hartford Stage plays, in-school residencies, and after-school student productions.

Jennifer Roberts, Director of Education for Hartford Stage, noted, “Our history with Classical Magnet is longer than any other school partnership. Over the years, it has grown and evolved alongside the changing needs of each organization. In working together, we strive for a partnership that is truly mutually beneficial, in which each organization becomes part of the culture of the other.”

When Hartford Stage Education expanded its Studio program, which consisted of theatre classes for students aged 5 to 17, in 2013, it needed space to accommodate additional classes. Classical Magnet was approached with the idea of housing the program. For the past five years, Hartford Stage has been in-residence at Classical Magnet on Saturdays and for six weeks during the summer; Hartford Stage also offers scholarships and internships for Classical students.

Students at Classical Magnet School
Students at Classical Magnet School

“Classical Magnet gives us such a great space suited so specifically to our program. Its black box theatre is perfect for our productions,” Roberts explained. “It’s rare that a school has such an intimate, dedicated space for theatre, as opposed to an auditorium or multiuse room – which demonstrates Classical’s commitment to its theatre program over the years.”

Classical Magnet student Trinity Stewart has participated in Hartford Stage’s Studio program for the past five years and is a regular in her school’s theatre department. “I never thought I’d go to a school that would offer such a great theatre department,” she said. “The fact that Classical offers both arts and academics made it the best choice for me. The theatre arts program is much more than you would get at a typical public school.”

Hartford Stage teaching artist Krista DeVellis, who recently directed the middle school production of Women Who Weave at Classical Magnet, reflected, “I did not know most of the students before auditions, and I could see a few of them sit up straighter when I was introduced as someone who works for Hartford Stage. Even if they didn’t know much about the company – as some are too young for our shows – they were excited to work with me. I think it made them realize how important their play could be and that it was not something to be discounted. Even though for many of them, it was their first time in a play, they all rose to the challenges they were presented.”

The strength of the partnership is most clearly reflected in the growth of students, many of whom have worked with Hartford Stage staff and artists for several years through the course of classes and school productions. Stewart’s mother, Nnecka Hill, said, “Trinity was – and still is – a very shy child. I have enrolled her in different programs in an attempt to help her become more vocal. Her father had heard of the programs at Hartford Stage, and we decided to give it a shot. I don’t believe she said two words in her first class, but she enjoyed it and asked to go back again. Over the years, I have watched how the teachers and staff have become like family and how they have nurtured Trinity to find her voice. She is still a shy kid, but not on stage.”

Hartford Stage’s education programs reach 21,000 students each year. Like those at Classical Magnet, students throughout Connecticut come to see Hartford Stage productions, explore literature through in-school residencies, and participate in plays at their schools directed by Hartford Stage teaching artists. Classical Magnet’s program is unique, as it incorporates all of these components into a schoolwide partnership.

“We need to build an appreciation for theatre in people when they are young,” DeVellis said. “We need to show people that their stories, their questions, and their opinions are not only welcome but are vital at our theatre. This is what the education department at Hartford Stage does in classrooms every day.”